Tips on Dealing With Angry, Difficult Customers


Have you ever had trouble with customers who are unhappy, and perhaps shouting and screaming? Most entrepreneurs have, even now, during the holiday season. You can usually identify two types of angry customers: those who are unhappy at something specific and isolated and those who tend to be repeatedly unhappy with nearly everything. Of course, you try to prevent the customer from ever becoming angry; hopefully that’s part of how you run your company. However, despite all that you do, a few angry customers tend to muddy the waters of even the best-run business. Here are some easy-to-follow guidelines for dealing with a customer who is already angry.

1. Let the customer vent. You should allow an angry customer to speak his or her mind. This approach might be difficult, but being a good listener (even to an angry, perhaps ranting cus-tomer) is still the best approach. Cutting the customer off usu-ally does more harm than good. Let the customer know that you sympathize and care enough to hear everything. Have you ever noticed your anger disappearing after you have gotten somebody to listen to you? Quite possibly, the customer mainly needs the chance to express some strong emotions on the issue; all you need to be is the sounding board. One caution. however: insofar as possible, let the customer do the venting somewhere away from other customers–in a back conference room or private office.

2. Be sure you understand the customer’s feelings. A great deal of expressed anger can confuse you when you are trying to listen. Are you sure you understand the main issue in the mind of the customer? What you see as the main issue might not be what the customer thinks it is. Only when you have completed this step and know what the customer thinks is wrong can you find out how to make it right.

3. Get the facts. If possible, have all available information on the case right in front of you. If the customer is wrong, be sure that your sources are correct. Ask questions to verify what the customer is telling you. If two or more versions seem to con-tradict each other, ask questions until you are satisfied that you have found the truth. If the customer is wrong, don’t say so directly. In all cases, focus on what can be done to solve the problem, rather than to place blame.

4. Suggest a solution. Be specific and clear. Be careful not to I make promises that you cannot keep. If the solution you can offer isn’t what your customer wanted, clearly explain why you have to offer this solution instead. Avoiding using “company policy” as an excuse. If you must use that phrase, explain the reasons for the policy. If you are in a position to do so, you might find you need to adjust the policy.

5. End positively. Once you have agreed to a solution, thank the customer for his or her patience and for bringing the problem to your attention. Don’t apologize too much. Instead, focus your attention on the future. Mention steps that can be taken on both sides to prevent such problems from happening again. Don’t hesitate to include things you will do personally to pre-vent future occurrences. Your main purpose now is to keep the customer’s future business.

6. Don’t expect to win them all. You can be as patient, sympathetic, helpful, and efficient as it’s possible to be, and still have a per-centage of customers who will remain angry and want trouble at all costs. Some customers are simply difficult people, and they will stay that way no matter what anyone does. They are always looking for something to be angry about. Don’t ever make the mistake of taking their words or actions personally. When the time arises to use these six steps in the workplace, do the best you can. If you don’t remember all of them, at least remember to do everything you can to keep an angry customer’s complaint from turning into a prolonged confrontation. Remember-it takes two people to make an argument. As the mouthpiece of the company, you must refuse to become that second person. You may have to suppress the desire to answer back defensively. In the end, though, your self -control will pay off because you will have kept your cool–and demon-strated to everyone that you can handle stressful situations. Most importantly, you will have done everything in your power to create a satisfied customer from an unhappy one.

Lowell H. Lamberton is a Professor of Business at Central Oregon Community College. You can contact him at or by phone at 383-7714.


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